(RAPID CITY, S.D.) – Briskly and boldly, a January wind blows leftover snow across the mountains. It's below freezing, and the stiff breeze stings as it rips through the rocks and trees.
Each bluster wears away the stones spread over Mount Calvary Cemetery as specs of weathered rock blend into the blanketed snow. Those interred are not forgotten in memorials, but with each passing decade, names fade into the bitter march of time.
Near the front of Mount Calvary are five long and narrow slabs ever so slightly peeking out of winter's chilled repose. Lying in the last of the plots rests a hero – with a name, hardly legible, after 100 years of honored heroism.
Paul J. Babue was 28 years old when he was killed in the line of duty, fighting a fire in downtown Rapid City. Not even as old as some Rush skaters, Babue was an apprentice at his uncle's store and beloved for his "sunny disposition," according to his 1924 obituary.
The foreman of the Rapid City Hook and Ladder Company, Babue volunteered to respond to a fire at the J.L. Robbins Lumber Company on June 19. While his brigade was able to successfully stop the inferno, a four-foot-tall chimney caved in over Babue.
June will mark 100 years since Babue's passing, but he is forever memorialized on the State Capitol Grounds in Pierre as the first fallen firefighter etched onto the state's Fallen Firefighter Memorial. His name, along with many distinguished heroes, are constant reminders of the sacrifice made by firemen at every ring of the firehouse bell.
The memorial contains the names of nine Rapid City Fire Department members lost in the line of duty. Encompassing even the smallest of communities, 22 volunteer firemen are remembered forever on its stone.
"Whether you're doing it as a career or you're doing it as a volunteer, everybody in this business, whether it is fire, rescue, EMS, search and rescue, it is very much a profession," said Jerome Harvey, Pennington County Fire Administrator. His job is to aid all the volunteer departments in the county.
96.6% of all registered fire departments in South Dakota are volunteer-based. Of 20 departments in Pennington County, 18 are volunteer-based. In April, the new Lead Volunteer Fire Department Training Complex was named in Harvey's honor.
"We don't look at splitting our people," continued Harvey. "At the base of it, we're all there to help. If you're a career or volunteer, you're here for the same reason."
The call of duty hasn't changed in the 100 years since Babue's passing. He was a World War I veteran and active in his duties with St. Mary's Catholic Church, the Elks Lodge, the 40 and 8, and the Knights of Columbus.
"I know for myself and our players, we respect the people that make those sacrifices," said Rush Head Coach Scott Burt.
Burt's father was a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in British Columbia and Burt has memories of the sacrifice and dedication it took being part of a first responder family.
"You've got to be focused and dialed in when you're part of a team like that, always," said Burt. "That's for any kind of team."
While Babue's and Burt's paths come from different times and eras, the bond of a fire brigade and hockey team seems inexplicably intertwined through the mantra of respect, honor, and teamwork.
"First responders get out of bed every morning and know their lives are on the line," said Rush goaltender Jason Pawloski. "It puts into perspective pretty quickly that we get to play the game we love."
Pawloski turned 28 on December 4, the same age as Babue was on that fateful Thursday in 1924.
"The fire doesn't care," said Harvey. "Everyone is equal in the face of the fire, regardless of who you are, how much you make, the fire doesn't care."
Harvey, the 18 volunteer fire departments, and the two career-based fire departments in Pennington County lead the charge in keeping Rapid City safe daily.
"They have a difficult job," said Pawloski. "We're fortunate that these individuals are willing to serve the community and we can't thank them enough for the job they do."
In Pierre, the Fallen Firefighters Memorial is there to thank, honor, and remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in their communities.
While the wind and weather wear away at the Babue's headstone, the memory and memorialization of his sacrifice, along with that of 48 others, is also present outside the capitol building - a stark remembrance that allows the flame of his memory to forever remain alight.
We invite you to join us for our First Responders Night on Saturday, January 13th as we say thank you to those putting their lives on the line every day.